Education, Health, Opinion, Politics, Sci-Tech

NOW YOU KNOW: End-of-session review part I

The following is an op-ed piece from Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki.

UPDATE: Part II can now be viewed here.

Original story below…

The 2023 Legislative Session proved to be full of wins and losses, as with any season in life! As a member of the Health and Government Operations (HGO) Committee, Delegate Szeliga sponsors and cosponsors many bills. Bills passed include helping you get your prescriptions ordered by your physician without having to try out a few different formularies first (HB785), straightening out the Board of Nursing that has faltered in issuing nurses’ licenses (HB611), and a few bills aimed at protecting our community pharmacies from the big box pharmacies trying to put them out of business. Maryland hospital emergency rooms have the longest waiting times in the country! The HGO Committee attempted to create a task force to determine why and find strategies to lower wait times and improve patient care (HB274). HGO will work on this before the next session. Overall, the HGO committee is working to deliver better healthcare to Marylanders for a more affordable price.

As a member of the Environment and Transportation Committee (E&T), Delegate Nawrocki brought a commonsense approach to the committee focused on roads, transit, the Chesapeake Bay, and housing. Delegate Nawrocki has fought against bills that tie us to California that require electric trucks only, which would start being phased in as early as 2027 (HB230). In addition, he has been a strong defender of property rights. He has spoken strongly against legislation (HB684) that would have modeled Maryland to be like Oregon and California, where property owners would have almost no right to evict tenants even for egregious violations of their rental agreements. Fortunately, the bill did not make its way out of committee.

Delegate Nawrocki worked with his colleagues on legislation (HB843) to create a task force to study the Baltimore area’s metropolitan water and sewer system, which is continually plagued by dysfunction like the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Also, his subcommittee worked on important legislation for all residents of District 7A that live in mobile home parks (HB23). This bill would allow residents of mobile home parks the first right of refusal to purchase the park as a homeowner’s association if the park were to come up for sale. This is a way for many residents to address rising housing costs in these mobile home parks. Delegate Nawrocki fought against unnecessary taxes from his committee, including the Paint Tax that would add a fee to every gallon of paint (HB255). He also fought against another cost for property owners requiring electric vehicle charging stations (HB830) in their homes even if they do not own an electric car – that bill passed. Finally, the E&T committee stopped an absurd bill (HB367) that allowed the government to use your income tax returns when a traffic citation was issued to base your fine on your income level.

This was the first year the General Assembly could exercise the expanded budgetary powers granted to them by the people of Maryland. This allowed the legislature to increase, decrease, and move money around in HB200 – Budget Bill FY24. The General Assembly cut $1.33 billion from the Governor’s original proposal and added $1.13 billion back in spending. The FY24 Budget totals $63 billion. It includes $8.7 billion in funding for K-12 education and caps in-state tuition increases at 2%. Approximately $200 million in tax relief is included in the budget, primarily for low-income families. The budget also uses one-time cash to fund “pay-as-you-go” capital projects rather than increase the state’s debt. At the time of its passage, the budget was structurally balanced and included $2.85 billion in reserves, with $2.5 billion in the Rainy-Day Fund and a $351 million fund balance in the General Fund.

When passed in 2020, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a massive new preK-12 public education program, was set to add approximately $3 billion per year to education spending over the next decade. Even before the March budget decline, analysts were projecting a structural deficit in funding for the Blueprint. The Blueprint is projected to have a deficit of $1.2 billion beginning in 2027 that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City also report they cannot afford their portion of the Blueprint education plan without raising taxes.

The future Blueprint costs are sure to require tax increases. Maryland schools are currently spending about $20,000 per student per year, one of the highest per-pupil funding levels in the nation. We are pressing Maryland public schools for accountability regarding where those dollars are going and why student achievement scores are abysmal.

The Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program provides scholarships to low-income kids in failing schools to attend a non-public school. It is the only school choice program in Maryland. Unfortunately, Governor Moore proposed cutting the funding by 20% and phasing the program out completely. We worked with our colleagues to save the program and restore funding. Kids in failing schools deserve an opportunity to attend a better school. We will keep fighting for this program and school choice options for all families.

On a local level, Baltimore County Public Schools’ $2.6 billion budget will now have voting power extended to someone as young as 16. The student member of the Baltimore County School Board is now allowed to vote on the complex multi billion dollar budget. While 16-year-olds cannot open a checking account, have a credit card, or go to a tanning bed, they are now eligible to oversee a budget larger than the Baltimore Orioles’ annual operating budget. We voted no and it passed largely along party lines.

HB119/SB199 requires each local school system to follow the state health framework with the penalty of losing funding. The framework mandates gender ideology beginning in PreK and the teaching of explicit sexual acts to 12-year-olds in our public schools. If the state superintendent determines schools are not teaching this radical gender ideology, funding is withheld until compliance. We voted against this in the House; fortunately, the Senate did not pass it.

Stay tuned next week for Part II of the End of Session Review!

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